Czech Phil: The Spring Stars I • Alisa Weilerstein


American cellist Alisa Weilerstein belongs to the most frequent guests of the Czech Philharmonic. She will launch the concert series named Spring Stars of the Czech Phil by a popular piece by Edward Elgar. In the second half, principal guest conductor Jakub Hrůša will perform musical poem A Summer's Tale by Josef Suk with the orchestra.

  • Duration of the programme 1 hod 40 min

Programme

Edward Elgar
Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra in E minor, Op. 85 (30')

— Intermission (10') —

Josef Suk
A Summer's Tale, Musical Poem for Large Orchestra, Op. 29 (54')

Performers

Alisa Weilerstein cello

Jakub Hrůša conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Marek Eben host

Photo illustrating the event Czech Phil: The Spring Stars I Alisa Weilerstein

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall


Tickets and contact information

Concert will be broadcasted on ČT art and social media of the Czech Philharmonic on 9th March at 8.15pm.

Concert will be broadcasted on ČT art and social media of the Czech Philharmonic on 9th March at 8.15pm.

Performers

Alisa Weilerstein  violoncello
Alisa Weilerstein

“A young cellist whose emotionally resonant performances of both traditional and contemporary music have earned her international recognition, … Weilerstein is a consummate performer, combining technical precision with impassioned musicianship.” So stated the MacArthur Foundation when awarding Alisa Weilerstein a 2011 MacArthur “genius grant” Fellowship. An exclusive recording artist for Decca Classics since 2010, she is the first cellist to be signed by the prestigious label in more than 30 years.

For her first album on the Decca label, Weilerstein recorded the Elgar and Elliott Carter cello concertos with Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin. The disc was named “Recording of the Year 2013” by BBC Music. Her second Decca release, on which she plays Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with the Czech Philharmonic, topped the U.S. classical chart. Weilerstein released her fifth album on Decca in September 2016, playing Shostakovich’s two cello concertos with the Bavarian Radio Symphony under Pablo Heras-Casado, in performances recorded live the previous season.

Weilerstein has appeared with all the foremost orchestras of the United States and Europe, collaborating with conductors including Gustavo Dudamel, Christoph Eschenbach, Alan Gilbert, Manfred Honeck, Marek Janowski, Neeme Järvi, Paavo Järvi, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Yuri Temirkanov, and David Zinman. Her major career milestones include an emotionally tumultuous account of Elgar’s concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic and Daniel Barenboim in Oxford, England, for the orchestra’s 2010 European Concert, which was televised live and subsequently released on DVD by EuroArts. Other highlights of that time include her debut at the BBC Proms in 2010.

Committed to expanding the cello repertoire, Weilerstein is an ardent champion of new music. She gave the New York premiere of Matthias Pintscher’s Reflections on Narcissus, and has worked extensively with Osvaldo Golijov, who rewrote Azul for cello and orchestra (originally premiered by Yo-Yo Ma) for her New York premiere performance. At the 2008 Caramoor Festival, she gave the world premiere of Lera Auerbach’s 24 Preludes for Violoncello and Piano with the composer at the keyboard. Joseph Hallman, a 2014 Grammy Award nominee, has also written multiple works for Weilerstein.

Weilerstein has appeared at major music festivals throughout the world, including Aspen, Edinburgh, Jerusalem Chamber Music, La Jolla Summer Fest, Mostly Mozart, Salzburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Tanglewood, and Verbier. In addition to her appearances as a soloist and recitalist, Weilerstein performs regularly as a chamber musician. She has been part of a core group of musicians at the Spoleto Festival USA for the past eight years and also performs with her parents, Donald and Vivian Hornik Weilerstein, as the Weilerstein Trio.

The cellist is the winner of both Lincoln Center’s 2008 Martin E. Segal prize for exceptional achievement and the 2006 Leonard Bernstein Award. She received an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2000 and was selected for two prestigious young artists programs in the 2000/2001 season.

A graduate of the Young Artist Program at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where she studied with Richard Weiss, the cellist also holds a degree in history from Columbia University. In 2008, Weilerstein, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was nine, became a Celebrity Advocate for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Jakub Hrůša  principal guest conductor
Jakub Hrůša

Jakub Hrůša is Chief Conductor of the Bamberg Symphony, and Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic and the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.

He is a frequent guest with the world’s greatest orchestras, including the Vienna, Berlin, Munich and New York Philharmonics; Bavarian Radio, NHK, Chicago and Boston Symphonies; Leipzig Gewandhaus, Lucerne Festival, Royal Concertgebouw, Mahler Chamber and The Cleveland Orchestras; Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, and Tonhalle Orchester Zürich. He has led opera productions for the Vienna State Opera, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Opéra National de Paris, and Zurich Opera. He has also been a regular guest with Glyndebourne Festival and served as Music Director of Glyndebourne On Tour for three years.

His recording of Martinů and Bartók violin concertos with Bamberg Symphony was nominated for a Gramophone Award, and his Dvořák Violin Concerto CD with the Bavarian Radio Symphony was nominated for a Grammy Award. In 2020, his recordings of Dvořák and Martinů Piano Concertos with Bamberg Symphony, and Vanessa from Glyndebourne, won BBC Music Magazine Awards. Other releases include Dvořák and Brahms Symphonies with Bamberg Symphony, Suk’s Asrael with the Bavarian Radio Symphony, and Dvořák’s Requiem and Te Deum with the Czech Philharmonic.

Hrůša studied at Prague’s Academy of Performing Arts, where his teachers included Jiří Bělohlávek. He is President of the International Martinů Circle and The Dvořák Society. He was the inaugural recipient of the Sir Charles Mackerras Prize, and in 2020 was awarded the Antonín Dvořák Prize by the Czech Republic’s Academy of Classical Music, and – with Bamberg Symphony – the Bavarian State Prize for Music.

Marek Eben  host
Marek Eben

Marek Eben was born in 1957 in Prague. He studied music drama at the Prague Conservatoire. After finishing school, he worked at the Vítězslav Nezval Theatre in Karlovy Vary, then at the Kladno Theatre, and from 1983 to 2002 he was an ensemble member at Prague’s Studio Ypsilon Theatre. Besides acting, he also involves himself with music. He is the exclusive songwriter for the band The Eben Brothers, which has released five albums (Malé písně do tmy, 1984; Tichá domácnost, 1995; Já na tom dělám, 2002; Chlebíčky, 2008; Čas holin, 2014), and he wrote the music for the films Bizon and Hele on letí and for the television series Poste restante. He has also composed music and written texts for about 20 plays (including Matěj Poctivý – Matthew the Honest, Vosková figura – The Wax Figure, Amerika, and Othello for Studio Ypsilon and The Winter’s Tale for the National Theatre). Since 1996, he has been the moderator of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

He has worked extensively on television, serving as the moderator of various programmes such as the contest O poklad Anežky České (The Treasure of St Agnes of Bohemia), the TýTý Awards Presentation, Stardance, and the discussion programme Na plovárně (At the Swimming Pool), which won the Elsa Award in 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 for the best talk show. Marek Eben has also won this prize as a moderator in 2001, 2002, 2006, and 2007. He is also the two-time overall winner of the TýTý Awards.

Compositions

Edward Elgar
Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85

The English composer Edward Elgar grew up in the family of a church organist who owned a shop that sold sheet music and instruments. Little Edward began playing the piano at school, and he learned to play the organ by watching his father. He also borrowed a variety of instruments from the family shop and taught himself to play them without receiving any kind of instruction, so he soon mastered not only piano and organ, but also violin, viola, cello, and bassoon. He also began composing in a similar manner. At age 16 he became a free-lance musician, so he got experience mainly as an instrumentalist, church organist, and conductor. He mostly composed choral music, but he did not achieve true renown as a composer until he reached the age of 42, when he wrote his Enigma Variations, Op. 36. The great conductor Hans Richter held the work in high esteem and prepared and led its premiere. The idea of creating a set of variations with a secret, “encoded” theme is indicative of Elgar’s unusual imaginativeness, and as a self-taught composer, he was not under any restraints. The work is a covert tribute to the composer’s wife Alice and to the friends who supported Elgar during the years of uncertainty as he got his start as a composer.

Another of Elgar’s most important works is the Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85. Just choosing the cello as a solo instrument represents a great challenge for composers. Antonín Dvořák may have put it most succinctly, once warning his composition pupils that unlike the piano or violin, which are capable of carrying themselves in front of an orchestra as ideal solo instruments, the cello does not possess comparable tonal qualities: “it whines up high and mumbles down low”. It is possible that after Elgar’s Violin Concerto (1907–1910), he was taking on a challenge as Dvořák had done—dealing with a difficult compositional task. The solutions the composer selected definitely hint at this. Elgar chose an unusual four-movement layout that differs from most other concertos and is more typical of chamber music, and Elgar’s concerto has a great deal in common with the chamber music genre. The composer deals with the cello’s sonic limitations by using a very delicate instrumental touch, and the music itself is in fact very personal, even intimate in character. Elgar’s musical language achieves perfection in its musical expression of pain and sorrow. The melancholy phrases that descend ever more deeply into despair and gloom are the key to the interpreter’s grasp of the entire work. The concerto dates from a time of great resignation immediately after the First World War. The composer himself was battling illness, but above all he was affected by the decline of his beloved wife’s health. She managed to attend the concerto’s premiere, but she died the following year. Although the premiere on 27 October 1919 featured the superb cellist Felix Salmond, the London Symphony Orchestra, and Elgar conducting, the performance did not turn out well because of a lack of sufficient rehearsal time. The failed premiere proved to be too much for the concerto. Despite the efforts of many outstanding cellists, it was not until 1965 that the work gained wide recognition thanks to the legendary recording made by Jacqueline du Pré, who was 20 years old at the time.

Josef Suk
A Summer’s Tale, tone poem for large orchestra, Op. 29

Voices of Life and Consolations
Midday
Intermezzo – Blind Musicians
In the Power of Phantoms
Night

Bohuslav Martinů had known the composer and violinist Josef Suk since the days of his studies at the Prague Conservatoire, and in particular since the 1922–1923 school year, when he was a pupil in Suk’s composition class in the advanced studies course. For many reasons, this did not involve intensive instruction, but the two men were respectful of each other in the years that followed: “…for you, Maestro Suk, I have undying admiration, and I make no secret of this”, Martinů wrote to Suk in 1930. But now we are getting ahead of ourselves. Josef Suk’s standing in the Czech musical world at the end of the 19th century and in the first decades of the 20th was not challenged, and his music including the tetralogy of major orchestral works had its enthusiastic admirers and detractors. Suk composed A Summer’s Tale (1907–1909) as the second work in that series, and it was premiered in January 1909 by the Czech Philharmonic under the baton of Karel Kovařovic. In five movements, A Summer’s Tale, Op. 29 tends to be characterised as a musical poem (or a poem about nature), and explanations of it very often resort to extra-musical and especially psychological connections. It follows upon the symphonic composition Asrael, in which Suk was most clearly dealing with the death of Antonín Dvořák (1904) and of his beloved wife Otilie (1905). Now—in his own words—after the tempest and the mystical silence of the night, he was clinging “to the tremors of the awakening earth and the rays of the rising sun”. Although these descriptive explanations might seem excessively poetic to us today, the work is remarkable for its intellectual depth and truthfulness.

In Suk’s music, A Summer’s Tale amounted to another step away from late Romanticism towards a modern mode of expression: in it he employs freely shaped melody in the context of expanded tonality, polyrhythm, and polyphony. Tone colour gains an autonomous role, and in handling it, Suk shows himself to be a true master of orchestration. It is no wonder that some critics put him alongside Mahler, Debussy, or Richard Strauss. While Karel Kovařovic appears in the printed score as the work’s dedicatee, the composer promised the autograph score to Oskar Nedbal, his former colleague from the Bohemian Quartet, who conducted A Summer’s Tale in Vienna the very next year after the Prague premiere. In the rather convoluted history of the travels of the autograph scores, copies, and other written sources for the composition, such names appear as Max Švabinský and Gustav Mahler—in all likelihood the author of the inscription “O lieber Tod, komm sachte!” on the proofs of the score from Universal Edition. But that is another story…

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